The Cinematic Mitzvah

Four days after the silent films leave the Castro next month, everyone will be speaking Yiddish. The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival opens there on July 19 (my birthday) with Sweet Mud, an Israeli drama set on a kibbutz in 1974. It closes August 6 at the Rafael with another Israeli drama, Three Mothers. (The official closing film is the American documentary Making Trouble, which closes the eight-day Castro run on July 26.)

In between we’ll get to see “more than 500 films” (not all of them feature-length, I hope). These include several Israeli documentaries, including the potentially controversial 9 Star Hotel, about Israel’s own illegal immigrants, Palestinian construction workers. The narrative features include My Mexican Shivah (the name itself sounds promising), and a Parisian cross-cultural romance, Bad Faith. The eight-episode Israeli TV serieis, A Touch Away, will be screened in its entirety.

Several films examine and celebrate music, including Between Two Notes, The Chosen Ones, and Yiddish Soul. And in case you haven’t gotten your fill of silent films already, the Festival will screen a 1925 melodrama, His People, with Paul Shapiro’s jazz sextet providing live accompaniment.

This year’s Freedom of Expression Award goes to German-Jewish filmmaker Dani Levy, whose wonderful comedy Go For Zucker opened the 2005 festival. His newest satire, to be screened at the festival, seems especially bizarre: My Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler puts the most evil man of the 20th century at the mercy of a Jewish acting coach. An older Levy film, The Giraffe, will also screen.

Does the term “Jewish Boxer” sound like an oxymoron? According to the Festival’s press release, there were 27 Jewish world-champion boxers in the first four decades of the last century. Boxing films to be screened include the above-mentioned silent His People, a documentary on an orthodox boxer, and the 1947 John Garfield classic Body and Soul.